S.F. suburb’s unique anti-crime strategy has outside skeptics

RichmondA gritty Bay Area coastal suburb’s unique program to deter violent crime — including paying people with criminal backgrounds, using donated funds, to stay on the straight and narrow — is winning national attention.

The program has its roots in a plague of gun violence in Richmond a decade ago. Forty-seven murders in 2007 made the city, per-capita, the sixth-most dangerous city in the United States.

Leaders of the mostly African American city in west Contra Costa County were desperate to break the cycle of violence. They seized on a proposal from a city official, DeVone Boggan, and established a city Office of Neighborhood Safety. Here’s an account from the Washington Post’s March 26 story:

Boggan, who had lost a brother in a shooting in Michigan, came up with the core of the program after reading about a paid business school fellowship. He wondered whether troubled young men couldn’t be approached the same way and be paid to improve their lives. But he had to raise the money because he couldn’t persuade officials to give tax dollars directly to violent firearms offenders.


He hired men who had served time across San Francisco Bay at California’s San Quentin State Prison, often for their own gun crimes on the streets of Richmond.


Boggan and his streetwise crew of ex-cons selected an initial group of 21 gang members and suspected criminals for the program. One night in 2010, he persuaded them to come to City Hall, where he invited them to work with mentors and plan a future without guns. As they left, Boggan surprised each one with $1,000 — no strings attached.


“No cop had ever handed them money without asking for something in return,” Boggan said. “And it had the intended effect. It sent a shock wave through the community. People sat up and began watching.”

According to Boggan, who runs the Office of Neighborhood Safety, 84 of the 88 at-risk men who have participated in the program are still alive. While some Richmond City Council members are skeptical, the current mayor and the last two police chiefs have come around to Boggan’s initiative. They credit it with removing Richmond from the list of most dangerous cities. There were just 11 murders in 2014, though numbers went up significantly in 2015, as they did in many U.S. cities.

D.C. mayor hints Richmond is exaggerating its success

Washington is one of those cities, which is why the Post is interested in the Richmond program. D.C. officials are fighting over whether to implement the same or a very similar program, except using taxpayer funds. Council members are more enamored of the idea than Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and Police Chief Cathy Lanier. They are so skeptical that they hint that Richmond is inflating its success.

“There’s never been a real evaluation of the program,” Lanier told the Post. “They didn’t design the program to allow it to be evaluated,” a Bowser aide told the newspaper.

In a 2014 story about Richmond’s plunging murder rate, city officials interviewed by the Contra Costa Times credited a variety of reasons for the drop — never mentioning that potentially violent young men are actually paid to keep peaceful.

On the police side, [Police Chief Chris Magnus] has reformed a long-beleaguered department with an infusion of young officers, a focus on data-driven resource deployment and an emphasis on building community trust.


“We don’t cast a wide net or move into hot spots like an occupying force, which fosters distrust among community partners,” Magnus said. “We are surgical; we concentrate on people that need to be focused on.”


At the same time, the ONS employs agents who build relationships with more than 60 young men and teens, identified through criminal records and other data as potential violent offenders. The program includes educational, counseling and job-placement support.


Operation Ceasefire, a volunteer campaign, helps give former gang members and violent offenders job training and counseling.

This sort of coverage, with its omission of any reference to the anti-crime payments, may well have come to Bowser’s and Lanier’s attention. If Richmond officials brag about the success of the payments to non-local media, but not to local media, that suggests a fear of scrutiny.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

Related Articles

Steyer, CA Democrats denounce money in politics

SAN JOSE – California Democrats decried the influence of money in politics at their convention on Saturday as they introduced

CEQA shakedowns and the mansion that Wal-Mart built

Liam Dillon in the Voice of San Diego has a sharp profile of San Diego lawyer Cory Briggs, an unapologetic

How do you like your higher electricity bill?

On CalWatchDog.com, for four years Wayne Lusvardi has been detailing in hundreds of articles the effective dismantling of California’s and